Health still main concern, but plan needed

  • The News Observer
    The News Observer

Everyone’s main concern is health and safety, but that can be balanced with economic recovery.

That was Paul Gribble’s message last week as he talked about Fannin County’s current situation and its future as government continues to react to the COVID-19 crisis.

Gribble, president of the Blue Ridge Lodging Association, said “We can balance health and safety with economic recovery.” 

Jan Hackett, president of the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, agreed. She said, “The first concern is for the health and welfare of the people of Fannin County.

“But there are two pandemics, the coronavirus pandemic and the other pandemic, unemployment, businesses failing and the devastation to the economy caused by the coronavirus.”

Hackett said a balance must be determined by state and local governments. The question to be answered is, “How can we get people back to work and back to business without endangering anyone?”

“Every single person here is effected by tourism,” he said.  

Gribble estimated that 207 full time employees represented by the nine rental companies in the lodging association have now lost their jobs. There are at least another 200 subcontractors not being used: plumbers, cleaners and yard maintenance people, for example. He estimated these numbers among everyone who rents cabins would triple if figures were available.

In his company alone, Georgia Mountain Cabin Rentals, in his letter to the commissioners, Gribble said he employed 22 full time people and 19 contractors. Besides himself, he is now operating with four members of the office staff on a part time basis.

And of the 22 full time employees, 20 are Fannin County residents. “We’re local, too,” Gribble said.

These and other jobs in the tourism industry offer local people “the opportunity too have a good lifestyle.”

When similar numbers are multiplied across all the cabin rental companies, “the lodging association is concerned,” Gribble said. “We’re offering to help.”

“We’re professionals,” he said of the lodging association members. “We have complied” with the Fannin County government to carry out the intent of their emergency declaration, which was that no rentals should take place during shelter in place. “We have followed that with full intent,” Gribble said.

In doing so, people have been turned away who simply wanted to come here and “shelter in place,” he said. 

They weren’t looking to shop and take advantage of all the activities, they just wanted to come to a cabin, settle in, and stay until the crisis is over.

But there was no leeway with the county’s order.

Gribble and Hackett agree a planning process needs to begin now to get Fannin County back on track.

The first step is to look at April. “Let it exit from your brain,” Gribble said.

Gribble says now is the time to set some guidelines to return to business as usual.  Guidelines are something with which cabin rental companies can operate, Gribble said.

Prospective customers could be told what to expect. Right now no one knows. As a result, companies are seeing cancellations all the way through July.

In an April 13 letter to the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Gribble defined himself as “a partner to Fannin County.”
He hopes a partnership with government, with guidelines to protect the health and safety of everyone, visitors and local residents alike, will enable the county to open its doors to travelers “sooner rather than later.”

Hackett agreed, saying, “We can welcome back visitors without endangering anyone.”